“Bro, ningaloke big NRI teams alle!” All NRIs have heard this phrase at least once in their lives from that neighbour ammayi or the alavalathi cousin who announces that you can’t sleep without AC and that your currency notes smell of oil. Despite all the taunts, we’ve always looked forward to our visits to ‘nammude swantham naadu’ for weddings and vacations.
But while we feel that we belong to India, we feel the same (maybe a little more) to our country of residence. And somehow, these feelings are the hardest to process during that long ride to the airport where you look around into the streets of your adopted country, knowing fully well that there won’t be a second time because you are coming back to India for good.
What is this feeling about?
On the surface level, it would be a loss of physical contact with your friends and family members who you used to meet on a regular basis. It can also extend to the craving of authentic shawarma from the shop across your building or those hangouts in the malls or simply missing the signboards written in Arabic.
But on an emotional level, it seems like an identity crisis. Something that every ‘Third Culture Kid’ is a victim of. Third culture kids are people who were raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of their country of nationality and also have lived in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years. A harsh feeling of being aloof from your home state despite visiting it often for vacation and an incessant longing of going back to the country we were brought up in.
From food, language, and even diction everything seems to be an upheaval. Words like “inshallah” and “mashallah” have become a part of our diction and biryani reminds us only of mandi. The difference in culture and lifestyle seem impossible to adjust to. All in all, an NRI is in a very conflicted state of mind. We are often told that this emotional turmoil and disturbance will ward off and that we will eventually become “adjusted”. But it seems like a far-fetched dream.
It almost feels like a long-distance relationship that can survive time and distance with a little love in our hearts and a commitment for a lifetime. The joy of our first resident card, the tendency to compare everything in our home town to the Gulf, involuntarily bringing up the Gulf in every conversation and obviously waiting with bated breath to go back…home.
Living in a country is very different from belonging to that country. When prompted and asked ‘where we are from/ where we belong to’ the natural instinct of many NRIs is to say the name of the foreign country they were brought up in. For me personally, it has been Muscat, Oman.
I was born in Oman and after spending the first 20 years of my life in that beautiful country, relocating to India seemed like living in a nightmare. I choked on my tears with this uneasy feeling taking over me as my plane took off from Oman and I looked down and watched the country fade away past the horizon, promising myself that I would be back. My friends from Kuwait, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and more too feel the same; binding us NRIs in an invisible bond.
If you ask us about our motherland, we hesitate to answer. Because one country gave us a nationality while the other gave us a home. A place to thrive and grow for our family, and supported us financially and emotionally, treating us like we belonged there. And it is for this reason that every NRI’s heart will lie in the Gulf because it was more than just a country of residence.
“Hiraeth” is a welsh word that refers to homesickness and nostalgia to a person, place, or time we once shared a deep bond with. Sometimes it’s also an earnest longing or desire or even regret a home that never was there. It is heartbreaking that many NRIs who returned to India many years ago still harbour this same feeling of Hiraeth within them. Unable to identify themselves with either place, many NRIs remain a non-resident of India mentally for years to come.